Historic Hudson River Towns’ new app-guided audio tour series is a timely solution to the question of what to do during this summer’s “staycation.”
The free, GPS-powered tours offer motorists, cyclists and walkers illustrated excursions through HHRT’s 16 member communities, from Yonkers to Peekskill in Westchester County to Nyack and Haverstraw in Rockland County, via the Mario M. Cuomo and Bear Mountain bridges.
Funding was provided by a grant from the New NY Bridge Project’s Community Benefits Program, administered by the New York State Thruway Authority.
Nancy Gold, marketing director for HHRT, a 25-year-old nonprofit organization, also acts as narrator for much of the content. Volunteers from all the participating communities collaborated on the research and writing, together with TravelStorys, an audio tour company founded by Story Clark.
In search of an audio tour producer to help publicize the attractions of its member communities, HHRT met with Clark two years ago. “We had the good fortune of holding our meeting at the office of the New NY Bridge Project,” Gold said. “They [the Thruway Authority] got very interested in the whole idea and they ended up funding us.”
The driving tour makes a loop of HHRT’s entire territory, with audio navigational prompts interspersed with commentary written by experts in the culture and history of each community. For those touring virtually, each municipality contributed the photographs that illustrate the tour. “We’ve had so much help from the communities, it’s really been wonderful,” Gold said. “All the historical societies have gotten involved.”
The scripts are full of anecdotes and storytelling, capturing the mystique of these Hudson River locales and the vibrancy of their downtown life.
“We are into Main Streets — that’s what we do,” Gold said. “The whole point of this is helping people enjoy the history and culture, and to get them to come onto Main Street, to get off the Route 9s on either side of the river. We’re very excited to have tourists come to our villages, shop in our shops, and eat in our restaurants — when it’s safe, of course.”
So far, HHRT has launched the driving tour of its member towns, and both walking and biking tours over the Cuomo Bridge. Coming later this summer will be a walking tour of Irvington, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow; a walking or cycling tour of Nyack; and a walking tour focusing on artist Edward Hopper’s Nyack.
Irvington Village Trustee Constance Kehoe, an HHRT board member who guided Irvington through its process of landmarking the downtown historic district, was involved in the overall audio tour project and helped develop the script for the Irvington portion. She said the tour would be an excellent draw for visitors, and for residents to learn the background of places they drive by every day.
“I took the driving tour with my husband, Kevin, to see the things we’re focused on,” she said. “I learned, coming over Bear Mountain Bridge, that in that area there’s this historic tollhouse and that the Harriman family, years ago, actually collected the tolls. There are a lot of things like that on the tour. Frankly, I think it was a very smart move by the Bridge Authority to fund such a thing, and I hope locals use it as much as visitors.”
The Irvington section introduces Van Winkle and his creator, Washington Irving; Madam C.J. Walker, the groundbreaking Black beauty entrepreneur who built Villa Lewaro; and Louis Comfort Tiffany and his glass creations that can still be seen in Irvington today.
Greg Allen, manager of the historic Irvington Theater, narrates the portion of the tour that features Irvington’s historic downtown, where the theater is located.
Robin Costello of Dobbs Ferry, a writer who is vice president of the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society, collaborated with society co-president Madeline Byrne on their village’s section of the tour. Thinking about what’s so alluring about river villages like Dobbs Ferry, Costello said, “The charm is that it’s like a typical main street of old, where you walk along and the shopkeepers know your name. I grew up in the Rivertowns and never found a place I love more. It’s largely unchanged in the last 40 years. You’re half an hour from Manhattan but at night you can still hear the crickets and there are still quiet, bucolic scenes to be found. The tour would certainly be enjoyable for anyone from out of town, to understand why people who love the Rivertowns love them so much.”
One of the locations on the Dobbs Ferry section of the tour is the 26-mile marker on Broadway in front of Mercy College. “It’s been there for quite some time,” Costello said of the stone marker. Also featured is the history of the Old Croton Aqueduct, preserved by the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct at the Keeper’s House on Walnut Street in downtown Dobbs Ferry.
The tour of the Hastings section was prepared in collaboration with Natalie Berry, president of the Hastings Historical Society. It traces Hastings’ history from a Native American stronghold to a community of farming estates, to its more recent identities as an industrial center and then as a magnet for actors, including Billie Burke, who played Glinda the Good Witch, and her “Wizard of Oz” co-star Frank Morgan, and artists such as sculptor Jacques Lipchitz.
The tours can be accessed at www.hudsonriver.com or by downloading the free TravelStorys app onto mobile devices from the app store or Google Play.